Saw The Good Shepherd today with my best friend. The reviews I've read have been barely lukewarm, with most reviewers complaining that the plot lacks a connecting thread and the movie feels like it's just barely related incidents heaped on top of one another, and that the stellar cast (Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Robert De Niro et al) is "wasted".
I, uh, couldn't disagree more. I thought the connecting thread was clear as day -- mind, it's not spelled out for you. There's no big revelation at the end or anywhere that says "hey, dudes, this is what it was all about". Yeah, if you're the sort of person who needs everything presented in easily digestible form, then you'll probably find this movie tedious. It's the kind of movie where you need to pay attention to what's going on -- it's like a good book in that way; every word is germane, every scene is significant. I've heard the film called "confusing" and yeah, if you don't like to think about what you're watching, it's probably very confusing -- particularly so if you've no interest in espionage or Cold War history (and if that's the case, wtf are you doing watching a movie that's... um... advertised as a CIA flick?).
Matt Damon is downright creepy in places as a highly-placed CIA official, Angelina Jolie's performance started out rather cliched (I thought), but then she totally wowed me by the end of the movie. I have to give De Niro props for having actual Russians play the roles of Russians in the movie. I cannot tell you how many times a movie's been ruined for me because the supposedly Russian characters couldn't speak a sentence of Russian without a horribly obvious accent. I mean, I realise that casting unknown Russians isn't profitable, but uh... that's what voice-over technology is for. Duh. Anyway, yeah, that seriously impressed me.
It's an engaging story with a subtle, nuanced plot. Despite being patriotic, it does not preach. But it's not light entertainment and it's definitely a story that's mired in shades of grey so completely that lovers of black and white will likely be utterly befuddled by it -- not to mention bored and unimpressed. A lot of the reviews I read focus on how the main character is "unsympathetic" and "despicable" because he doesn't do the "right thing" like good little US spies are supposed to. That is to say, he gets an assignment on his wedding day -- his orders are to leave immediately. You see, he actually, you know, leaves immediately. Apparently, that's WRONG. Oh, people. I, uh, have no comment other than it must suck to go through life with an atrophied brain. :))
One knucklehead actually says that the Bourne movies Damon did were "more realistic" than this one. Uh, I wonder if buddy knows that the Bourne films were (loosely) based on *gasp* novels by Robert Ludlum. Ludlum's work is most definitely not the sort to strip espionage of all its glamour (though the books did a better job of realism than the movies did). Ludlum's research was impressive, but books about espionage as it is would never sell. The spy trade is not actually glamorous. It's not even as noble as it looks on paper. If you like James Bond and prefer to think that's what spying's all about, you'll hate The Good Shepherd. If you've ever considered a career in espionage (as in, you'd done some research and not just idly entertained the thought of it), you'll probably remember why you stopped considering it. I certainly did.